Tanker Explosions—Problem in Inspection

Tanker Explosions— Problem in Inspection


The Editor’s Opinion Page

All the world was horrified when a highway tank truck carrying liquefied propylene exploded on a road in Spain adjacent to a crowded beach campsite. Within seconds 139 campers were incinerated while 152 others received massive burns (see page 39).

Politicians here were doubly horrified to discover that the same type tankers, numbering in the thousands, were roaming the city streets, county roads and interstates of this country. Naturally, they made a big issue of this with much calling of news conferences and handing out of press releases.

What the politicians didn’t seem to realize is that highway tank trucks carrying flammable liquefied gases have been roaming this country for a long time, and with an excellent safety record. Nevertheless the circumstances of an explosion of liquefied gas, let’s say on a densely populated city street, are such that tankers carrying such a product must receive added fire prevention attention.

It is interesting to note that two days after the explosion, local police were issuing summonses to tanker drivers who were transporting hazardous materials on the same road—to avoid paying tolls on a superhighway a little more than a mile west. Also interesting was a report by Spanish investigators that told of a hairline crack, 3 inches long in a welded section of the remains of the tanker shell.

The Grading Schedule for Municipal Fire Protection calls for a control of hazards by states and municipalities. Part of this control can be provided by “adequate laws and ordinances … enacted to properly regulate the manufacture, storage, transportation and use of hazardous liquids, gases and other materials …” The schedule further states that “Laws and ordinances shall be enforced. The enforcement agencies shall be staffed by sufficient, qualified personnel. . .” And finally, “Lack of enforcement is considered equivalent to absence of laws and ordinances.”

Now, getting back to the politicians who raised an instant clamor (quickly dropped). Nowhere did we hear of any clamor for additional qualified personnel to enforce laws and ordinances. If the local police had been doing their job the tanker explosion might have taken place on an uncrowded superhighway and not at a camp site. If the tanker had been inspected and the hairline crack detected, the explosion might not have occurred.

But perhaps, the police and the inspectors were shorthanded as they are in many areas of this country.

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